Anti-drug policy ignores dangers of alcohol abuse NBA notebook

April 16, 1991|By Alan Goldstein

The near-fatal car crash of Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker again puts the dangers of drinking and driving in the sports arena.

The National Basketball Association set the standard for the professional leagues in establishing a strong anti-drug policy. Three strikes and a player, superstar or sub, is banned for life.

Unfortunately, the NBA does not have similar penalties in dealing with alcoholics. And so we read about incidents involving Dale Ellis, Roy Tarpley and Terry Catledge, and neither the league nor their teams can punish them for their drinking.

Tarpley, who recently tangled with Dallas police when they arrested him on a DWI charge, was placed on suspension only because he had violated his drug after-care program.

"We have both a league education and counseling program about alcoholism," said NBA general counsel Gary Bettman. "Players suspected of having a drinking problem can be recommended for a program, but enrolling is strictly voluntary. But players can't get banned for drinking since alcohol is legal.

"If it gets to the point where a player is thought to have a severe problem, the league can step in, but alcohol abuse is not part of our bargaining agreement with the players."

But is a player with a drug problem any more dangerous to society than a heavy drinker like Catledge, the Orlando Magic forward who has been ticketed for driving with a suspended license three times in the past eight months?

Catledge was convicted of drunken driving in Tennessee in July 1989. This led to his license being suspended in Tennessee and Mississippi. But he has been stopped for speeding twice in Florida this year and allowed to drive away with a court summons, claiming he did not have a Florida driver's license. Both times, he failed to appear in court.

Catledge's case is all the more pathetic if you recall how he swore off drinking in 1987 when he was a member of the Washington Bullets.

That summer, Catledge was involved in a car wreck in Mississippi in which his cousin, Ricky Cooper, the driver, was killed after the car overturned in a ditch.

Catledge said he felt "both lucky and blessed" to survive with minor injuries. But the loss of his cousin apparently did not change his drinking and driving habits.

Perhaps Catledge should have a chat with Golden State Warriors star Chris Mullin, who confronted his drinking problem in 1987 and admitted himself to a rehabilitation clinic.

"[Warriors coach] Don Nelson put pressure on me to get help with my problem. There's a lot of self-denial," said Mullin. "Once you admit you have a problem, you're a long way to solving it.

"The day I checked into the clinic was the worst of my life. I felt I had failed myself, my family and my friends. But looking back, that day I went into the clinic was also the best day of my life," said Mullin, an All-Star pick three straight years.

* Check steerage: Detroit Pistons captain Isiah Thomas, recently returned from a wrist injury, insists the defending champions have to "tighten their ship" before seeking a third straight title.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we've got a few stowaways on this team," Thomas said. "We've become comfortable with losing. We're not working together. It's my job to make sure there are no stowaways before the playoffs begin, and things could get ugly."

Said Pistons coach Chuck Daly: "On most teams, Isiah's remarks would have a negative effect. But this team is proud enough to respond in a positive way."

* Standing Pat?: Don't rule out the possibility of the New York Knicks trading star center Patrick Ewing, who has a clause in his contract that makes him a free agent unless he is one of the NBA's four highest-paid players. Ewing is reportedly seeking close to $7 million a season. This season, he is earning $4.2 million, but the Knicks are five games below .500.

Dave Checketts, the team's new general manager, suggested he would consider offers for Ewing by saying, "People say some players are untradable, but after [hockey great] Wayne Gretzky got traded, how can you say that anymore?"

But Checketts quickly added: "As long as you have one of the premier centers, you have a chance to win. I believe we'll get something done to keep him in New York."

* Cool hand Luc: New Mexico center Luc Longley, considered a possible lottery pick this June, got a lukewarm reception from pro scouts attending an All-Star game in Orlando last week.

Said Orlando Magic scout John Gabriel: "One minute Longley looks like Bill Walton. Other times, he plays like John Boy Walton."

The most imposing figure belonged to Iowa State's Victor Alexander, a slow-footed, 6-foot-10 center Charlotte player personnel director Allan Bristow said is "a couple of biscuits under 300."

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